Thirty miles north of Santa Fe, NM , the snow-fed waters of the Rio del Medio and the Rio Frijoles begin a 2,000-mile journey and a 7,000-foot descent to the Gulf of Mexico. For a time they gather at Santa Cruz Lake at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Chimayo, behind the 125-foot Santa Cruz Dam.
Built in 1929 by the Santa Cruz Irrigation District, the dam is 535 feet across and 90 feet deep at the overflowing spillway. The lake covers 121 surface acres with water in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, providing recreational opportunities for anglers, picnickers, campers, and boat lovers alike.
Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area is located on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Santa Cruz Irrigation District regulates water releases for agricultural use in the Santa Cruz Valley. The lake normally contains water year-round and may vary in depth as much as 30 feet.
The local terrain is comprised of rugged, rolling foothills, with wide open mesas and chiseled steep canyons. The elevation at the lake is 6,285 feet and rises to 6,600 feet at the Overlook Campground. The eastern shoreline is fringed with juniper and pinon pine, cottonwood, and a filigree of mountain mahogany. The west side is dominated by a large buttress of granite.
The climate at Santa Cruz Lake is semi-arid. Rainfall generally occurs from May through October with the bulk in July and August. Wind is primarily from the northeast during the winter, and southwest during the spring, summer, and fall. Summer temperatures range from 54-92 degrees and in the winter from 5-45 degrees.
- Camping/Picnicking -- Santa Cruz Lake offers two campgrounds, the North Lake Campground and the Overlook Campground, each with picnic shelters, grills, and overnight camping facilities including restrooms. Drinking water is available at the North Lake Campground. Camping is not allowed at the shelters near the shore. There is a 14-day stay limit. Please camp in designated sites only.
- Swimming / Wading -- Swimming is not allowed at Santa Cruz Lake due to dangerous underwater currents. Wading is allowed in knee-deep water only. Shoes must be worn to protect feet from broken glass and other sharp objects. Nudity is not allowed in the recreation area.
- Boating -- All boats are restricted to trolling speed throughout the lake. A “No Wake, five MPH” restriction is in place for all boats using the lake. All boaters must comply with State of New Mexico and BLM regulations for boating safety, equipment, and registration. A U.S. Coastguard-approved personal floating device (PFD) must be provided for each person in the boat. All children 12 years old and younger must wear the PFD at all times while on the lake. The boat ramp area is for loading and unloading ONLY. No parking on the boat ramp is allowed.
- Fishing -- Santa Cruz Lake is periodically stocked with rainbow trout by the NM Dept. of Game and Fish. German brown trout and other species are occasionally caught. All anglers must have a valid New Mexico fishing license and a Wildlife Habitat Improvement validation or stamp in their possession. No ice fishing is allowed due to unstable ice conditions. Daily limits, bag and possession limits are 5 fish per license holder. Children 11 years old or younger do not need a license, but must abide by these limit restrictions.
- Hiking -- The Santa Cruz Lake trail system includes 6.4 miles of trail. The trails are moderate to difficult. Please bring water and wear sturdy shoes for hiking. Trails include La Caja, Laguna Vista, and the Debris Basin Trail.
Two campgrounds, each with picnic shelters, grills, and restrooms. Drinking water is available April through October at the North Lake Campground only.
- Cultural Resources -- Sites and artifacts dating back centuries have been found within the recreation area. Please protect these valuable resources of the past. Removal or disturbance of these artifacts destroys valuable information and is a serious crime punishable by fines and/or imprisonment.
- Campfires -- Campfires are allowed in grills or firepans only. Camp stoves and charcoal fires are recommended. Firewood collection is not allowed - please bring your own campfire fuel. Please do not leave your fire unattended and make sure it is completely out before you leave.
- Parking -- Please have respect for others when parking vehicles. Pay attention to parking designations. Blue areas are Handicapped Parking Only. Yellow areas are No Parking at any time. Park in designated parking spaces only. There is No Parking in the boat ramp area. Motor vehicle freeplay is prohibited.
- Pets -- Pets are welcome in all areas of the recreation area, but must be kept under control and on a leash at all times. Quiet hours apply to pets. Equestrian use in the campground is prohibited. Please be considerate of others and pick up after your pet.
- Fireworks & Firearms -- Discharging firearms and fireworks or any other implement capable of causing injury or damage to property is prohibited anywhere within the boundaries of the recreation area.
- Recycle -- Trash receptacle are found at all campgrounds. Please use them. Make a sweep of your area before you leave, and take out what you brought in. Recycling cans for aluminum and glass can be found near the recreation area.
- Washing -- For public health and safety, bathing, washing clothes, or washing dishes is not allowed at water spigots. Please do not hook RVs up to water spigots.
Location / Access
About 30 miles northeast of Santa Fe on US 84/285 to NM 503. From 503, travel south to County Road 98A.